Trump's CIA pick faces growing Hill scrutiny over destruction of interrogation tapes

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 4/17/2018, 4:49 p.m.
President Donald Trump's choice to run the CIA has privately faced a barrage of questions from senators over her role ...
President Donald Trump's pick to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, would be the first female director of the intelligence agency if confirmed.

By Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, CNN

(CNN) -- President Donald Trump's choice to run the CIA has privately faced a barrage of questions from senators over her role in the Bush-era destruction of CIA interrogation tapes, but she still hasn't alleviated a number of concerns about the matter ahead of her confirmation hearings.

The issue remains a major sticking point facing Gina Haspel's nomination, according to GOP and Democratic lawmakers, with several key senators saying so far they haven't received sufficient information to satisfy their concerns about her involvement in a major controversy that roiled George W. Bush's administration in his second term.

"Her nomination to me comes down to the destruction of the video tapes," Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN. "That's the issue that I'm uncertain about. Destruction of evidence, particularly having been told not to do so, is hard to justify, in my opinion."

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, another swing vote on the committee, said while he's open to Haspel's nomination after meeting with her, he still wants to hear more. "I want her to come back in. I want to make sure I see the final report about her involvement in the destroying of the records," Manchin said.

Some Republicans, too, are pushing for Haspel to provide more details about that episode.

"That was one of the issues that we discussed at length, but I'm not going to preview the hearing," Sen. Susan Collins, a GOP moderate from Maine who sits on the committee, told CNN. "I've asked for some additional information" about the episode, she added.

The destruction of the CIA tapes, along with Haspel's tenure in 2002 running a "black site" in Thailand where interrogations were conducted, are the key portions of her 33-year career that have emerged as major flashpoints since Trump announced plans to make her the first woman to permanently run the agency.

Her confirmation hearing likely won't take place until next month before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Republicans maintain a slim, one-vote advantage. Haspel is likely to need at least one Democratic vote to be confirmed, because Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, is opposed to her confirmation, and Sen. John McCain is home in Arizona battling cancer.

Haspel was officially nominated by the White House on Tuesday for the role. Her confirmation hearing likely won't take place until next month before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where Republicans maintain a slim, one-vote advantage.

Behind the scenes, Haspel has sought to distance herself from those controversial episodes, noting that there was a post-9/11 mindset at the time when waterboarding was not explicitly outlawed, adding she would abide by federal law that now bans such tough interrogation tactics, according to senators.

The destruction of the tapes

On the tapes, she has told lawmakers she did not order their destruction and had sought to go through the appropriate channels after being asked to draft a cable calling for them to be destroyed, according to lawmakers and an agency official. She has said that her supervisor had taken a different course of action without allowing the then-CIA director to review the cable first.